Monday, October 30, 2023

RIP Frank Howard

Frank Howard, famed slugger for the Dodgers and Senators in the 1960's and manager for the Padres and Mets in the 1980's, has passed away at age 87.  You may be asking yourself "what has that got to do with Japanese baseball?"  It turns out that Frank Howard ended his playing career in 1974 in Japan as a member of the Taihieyo Club Lions.  

Howard signed with the Lions as part of the team's attempt to build attendance by signing former major league players.  Howard's 382 home runs and 1,119 RBIs in the majors were the most ever by a foreign player entering NPB and would remain so for almost 40 years until Andruw Jones joined the Eagles in 2013 (Jones had 434 home runs and 1,289 RBIs).  The problem, however, is that Howard also brought with him a bad knee which got worse during spring training that year.  By the time Opening Day rolled around Howard was in so much pain he could barely stand.  He was in the lineup for Opening Day against the Nippon-Ham Fighters* but went 0-2 with a walk before being removed from the game.  Howard ended up not playing in anymore games and returned to the US in May.  He was eventually replaced on the Lions roster by another former MLB star - Matty Alou.

*This was the team's first game under this name as the former Nittaku Home Flyers had been sold to Nippon-Ham that winter and renamed the Fighters.

Howard only has a handful of Japanese baseball cards.  He had two cards in the 1974-75 Calbee set - #70 and #127.  Both of these are relatively rare and expensive.  I don't have either of them but I do have images of them that swiped years ago off Yahoo! Japan Auctions for an earlier post:

1974-75 Calbee #70

1974-75 Calbee #127

Luckily, Howard had a couple cards in two BBM sets from the last 15 years or so.  He had two cards in the 2010 BBM Lions 60th Anniversary set.  A large part of that set dealt with the four years of the Taiheiyo Club era in Lions history and Howard's photo is on the card commemorating the 1974 season.  He also had a "regular" card in the set:

2010 BBM Lions 60th Anniversary #79

2010 BBM Lions 60th Anniversary #83

He also appeared in the 2013 BBM Deep Impact (aka Legendary Foreigners 2) set.  The photo on the card looks like it could have been taken around the same time the photo on one of the Calbee cards was taken.

2013 BBM Deep Impact #02

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Card Of The Week October 29

Merrill Kelly of the Diamondbacks had a great pitching performance in Game Two of the World Series last night, going seven innings and striking out nine batters while only giving up three hits (one a solo home run by Mitch Garver) and walking none.  He got the win in Arizona's 9-1 victory over Texas which tied the Series at one game apiece.

Kelly spent four seasons in South Korea, playing for the SK Wyverns of the KBO from 2015 to 2018.  He helped SK win the championship in 2018 before he returned to the US and signed with the Diamondbacks.  I've heard a number of comments on-line that Kelly is the first pitcher to record a win in both the Korean Series and the World Series and I think he could possibly become the first player to ever win both a Korean and World Series championship should Arizona win although I certainly could be wrong about that.

So as this is a baseball card blog, the obvious thing you'd be expecting me to do is to talk about Kelly's Korean baseball cards.  But there's a problem with that.  All of the licensed Korean baseball cards released in the past ten years have excluded any foreign players.  So there are no official KBO cards of Kelly available.


Dan Skrezyna of Korean Cardboard created sets featuring all the foreign KBO players for each of the five seasons between 2015 and 2019.  The sets were called "Foreign Attack" and Dan labeled his card company "Vittum" (I believe named after the park in Chicago he played Little League baseball in).  Mind you, none of them came out the year they cover - the "2015" set was released in 2019, the "2016" set was released in 2017, the "2017" set was released in 2018, the "2018" set was released in 2020 and the "2019" set was released in 2021.  I know Dan has been working on some later sets but I don't know when or if he's going to release them.

Anyway, the point of all this is that Dan's sets are the only ones where you'll find cards of Kelly in his Wyvern uniform.  Dan issued sets for all four years Kelly was in Korea so there are four cards of him:

"2015" Vittum Foreign Attack #16

"2016" Vittum Foreign Attack #39

"2017" Vittum Foreign Attack #35

"2018" Vittum Foreign Attack #16

The print runs for these sets were very low - only 20 sets for each with the exception of the "2017" set which had a print run of 25.  I do not know if Dan has any unsold sets - if you're interested in trying to find one, I would recommend contacting him either through his blog or his Twitter account.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Adolis Garcia

Texas Rangers star Adolis Garcia is having one hell of a post-season.  He's currently hitting .357 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in 13 games so far, including a sayonara home run in Game One of the World Series last night.  Garcia is from Cuba originally - he defected in late 2016 and signed with the St Louis Cardinals.  The Cardinals sold him to Texas a couple years later and he became a star in his first season as a regular in 2021, hitting 31 home runs with 91 RBIs (and 194 strikeouts).

I'm not sure how much mention this has gotten in the postseason telecasts (I'm not watching the US broadcasts) but Garcia briefly played in Japan in 2016.  As part of the same program that has allowed other Cuban players such as Frederich Cepeda, Alfredo Despaigne and Livan Moinelo to play in Japan without defecting, Garcia spent part of that season with the Yomiuri Giants.  He didn't do particularly well, hitting .234 with four home runs in 28 games with the farm team and going hitless with three strikeouts in seven plate appearances over four games with the ichi-gun squad.  He joined the team in June but was let go in August - it looks like he defected in France on his way back to Cuba from Japan.

The fact that he played in Japan raises the possibility of an Oscar Colas-type situation where there'd be some Japanese baseball cards of him.  Except there aren't.  He didn't appear in any BBM or Calbee issues that year and Epoch didn't do any Giants-related sets that year (it'd be two years before Epoch started doing their "flagship" 400+ card NPB set).  Topps, of course, didn't have an NPB license until 2021.  It's possible that he had a team-issued card made by the Giants themselves but no such card has surfaced.  I made some enquiries of Japanese card collectors on Twitter (well, one anyway) and no one has seen any NPB cards of him.  

It'd be cool if BBM or Epoch included him in an OB set at some point although it's probably unlikely to happen anytime soon.  I'm still waiting for the first Alphonso Soriano OB card.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Some Pricey Sets Plus Fusion

It's been almost two months since the last time I did a "New Releases" post so I thought it was high time I got caught up on what card sets have been recently announced (or recently released in one case).  All of these except one are in the "ultra high end" category - over $100 for a box containing four to six cards.

- We'll start with the one reasonably priced set.  BBM is releasing their annual Fusion set which is essentially the third and final installment of their flagship set in late November.  The set is the usual four-headed monster that it is every year.  There'll be 99 of the misleading labeled "Record Hall Of Fame" cards which will mostly feature non-Hall Of Fame players.  Instead what this is is basically a review of the past regular season with a card or two commemorating a particular achievement that gets matched with a card or two commemorating a somewhat related event in the past.  For example it wouldn't surprise me to see a card for Shuta Ishikawa's no-hitter matched with a card for Kodai Senga's no-hitter in 2019.  In addition there will be 21 "1st Version Update" cards featuring players who for whatever reason weren't included in either the 1st Version set or the similarly named subset from the 2nd Version set and 24 "Title Holder" cards featuring the statistical leaders for each league in 12 categories.  Those three subsets alone account for 144 cards but in addition there are an unspecified number of short printed "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards.  There's also the usual two non-premium insert sets - "Great Records" (24 cards featuring two individuals from each team reaching some milestone) and "Legendary Players" (12 cards featuring an OB player from each team) along with two premium insert sets - "Treasure" (12 cards featuring an OB player from each team) and "Esperanza" (24 cards featuring two active players from each team).  The premium inserts are serially numbered but I don't know the print runs.  There are also a plethora of autographed cards available including ones for the recently deceased Shigeru Sugishita.  (BBM's promotional site for the set says something about the cards having sticker autographs signed "during his lifetime".  I'm glad they cleared that up because I was wondering if he'd signed via Ouija board.)

- BBM is putting out "Glory", their annual ultra high end set, in late November as well.  Boxes of this will retail for 24,200 yen (~$160) and will contain six cards.  The base set will contain 36 cards (three players per team I assume) which all have multiple serially numbered parallels.  There are two serially numbered insert sets - "Miyabi" (36 cards serially numbered to 50 with a parallel version) and "Glorious 3D" (12 cards serially numbered to 25).  There are a plethora of autograph and memorabilia cards.  The memorabilia cards include both patch cards and bat knob cards.

- Epoch is releasing another of their combination active/OB "Stars & Legends" team sets and this time it's for the Giants.  The set is officially known as the "Giants Stars & Legends with Memorabilia" and four card boxes of it will retail for 22,000 yen (about $145).  The base set will contain 44 cards and there are five insert sets - "Decomori Signature (Gold) (6 cards #'d to 25), "Decomori Signature (Green) (6 cards #'d to 5), "Decomori Signature (Hologram) (6 cards that are 1-of-1), "Gem" (7 cards, not sure of the serial numbering) and "Black Gem" (7 cards #'d to 5) - all of which are serially numbered.  There are four types of autographed cards - "Authentic" (28 players), "Legendary" (28 players), "1 of 1" (27 players) and "Baseball" (7 players) - and six different varieties of player used bat cards - Core, Grip A, Grip B, Barrel, Knob A, Knob B.  There are ten of each bat card available.  The set will be out on November 18th.

- November 18th is also the date that Epoch will be releasing their annual "Pacific League Premier Edition" set.  Boxes of this set will retail for 17,600 yen (about $118) and contain six cards - three base set cards, an insert card and two "Special Insert" cards.  The base set contains 54 cards - nine players from each team and there's only one insert set, a 24 card "Pacific League Superstars" set (which I think has two parallel versions available).  All the "Special Insert" cards are serially numbered although I don't know the counts.  There's 18 "Gem" cards, 54 "Authentic" autograph cards, 54 "Holospectra" autograph cards (not sure if those are real autographs or facsimile), 15 "Uniform Autograph" cards (which I assume have both an autograph and a uniform piece), 15 "Uniform" cards, 15 "Patch" cards and 15 "Letter" cards.

- A week after those two sets come out, Epoch is releasing their latest collaboration with the OB Club called "Career Achievement 2023".  You'll be forgiven if you thought this set already came out this year - Epoch's 2022 edition of this set got delayed until March of this year.  Each 18,150 yen box (around $122) contains six cards although two of them are autographed cards.  The base set has 54 cards and there's a Hologram parallel of each card.  There's apparently six possible autograph cards - "Authentic" (52 cards), "Tribute To The Past" (19 cards), "Baseball Greats" (16 cards), "Combo" (3 cards), "Baseball Autographs (White)" (24 cards) and "Baseball Autographs (Black)" (12 1-of-1 cards).

- Dan Skrezyna of Korean Cardboard tweeted out something earlier this week about a new retired player set for the KBO.  The SCC KBO Legend set has already been released and boxes retail for W220,000 (about $164).  Each box contains one "encased" card (although it's not clear if this is always an autographed card) and a pack of five cards.  The base set contains 71 cards and each base set card has three serially numbered parallel versions - "Base Blue" (#'d to 60), "National Treasure Silver" (#'d to 10) and "National Treasure Gold" (#'d to 5).  There's a 39 card insert set called "Retro" and I think each of those cards is serially numbered to 27.  Each of the 71 players in the set has six different autographed cards - "Base Autograph Bronze", "Base Autograph Silver" (#'d to 10), "Base Autograph Gold" (#'d to 5), "Base Autograph Platinum" (1-of-1), "Moment Autograph Silver" (#'d to 10) and "Moment Autograph Gold" (#'d to 5).  Additionally 29 players also have "Pine Tree" autographed cards that are serially numbered to 5.  Dan has put the checklist for the set up at the Trading Card Database.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

2023 NPB Draft

The 2023 NPB draft was held today and for the first time since 2018, I don't have any "pre-rookie" cards of any of the players.  For the past four years there were at least three players each year who were in either the 2019 or 2020 Panini USA Baseball Stars & Stripes set as representatives of the 2018 or 2019 Collegiate Samurai Japan team respectively.  The last two players to graduate from college were both drafted last year (Shota Morishita and Ryosuke Kodama Mikiya Tanaka) so I was left to wonder if any of the ten players from the teams who went to the corporate leagues after college would be drafted (assuming any of them are still playing).  None of them were so there's a very good likelihood that all the players from those sets who are going to get drafted have been drafted.  The youngest player from the group is Kento Ogo who turned 25 about a month ago so they're all getting a bit old to be entering professional baseball.

There is, however, another possible source of "pre-rookie" cards for the drafted players.  In 2021 and 2022, JABA (the Japanese Amateur (or possibly Adult) Baseball Association), the organization in charge of the corporate/industrial league, issued baseball card sets.  The 2021 set was supposedly 90 cards but may have actually been a little larger - I've been attempting to put a checklist together and I've seen card numbers as high as 92.  The 2022 set is reportedly 88 cards.  Each set contains players from various teams in the corporate leagues.  I've identified roughly 80% of the 2021 set so I compared the list of players drafted from corporate league teams today with the checklist I have and found exactly one player who already had a card - Shunya Morita of Honda Suzuka, the second round pick of the Yomiuri Giants.  He is card #33 in the set.  I don't have this card but I swiped images of the front and back of it from an auction on Mercari (the auction is for three copies of the card which explains the "x3" on the image of the front of the card:

Morita brings the number of known players from the 2021 set who have been drafted to six.  There may be others - I'd actually be surprised if they're aren't - but until I see or generate a complete checklist, I won't know for sure.

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Infinite Samurai Japan

I've mentioned this before but when it comes to spectator sports I am pretty much only a fan of baseball.  I really don't pay a whole lot of attention to any other sports, either here in the US or in Japan.  So BBM's annual multi-sport set Infinity (or Masterpiece every fifth year) is usually not all that interesting to me.  Oh sure, about a third of the set is usually baseball players but generally I already have dozens of cards of those players.  On rare occasions BBM's included corporate league or JWBL players in the set and I've picked those cards up as singles.  As a matter of fact, I had seen that this year's set was going to include another former JWBL player (Yu Katoh) as well as a member of the Tochigi Golden Braves of the indy Baseball Challenge League (Hiroyuki Takagishi, who's actually a comedian but made the team via a tryout) and I figured those would be the only cards from the set that I'd be trying to pick up.  But two weeks ago I saw this tweet from BBM and everything changed.

There are Samurai Japan cards in the set!

The photo attached to the tweet showed cards of both Hideki Kuriyama and Roki Sasaki wearing Samurai Japan uniforms.  Oddly enough though it also showed a card of Yu Darvish in a Fighters uniform, not a Samurai Japan one.  I suddenly got a lot more interested in this set.

BBM usually makes a pdf of the checklist for each of their sets available a few weeks before the set is released so I ran the one for Infinity through Google translate.  It looked like there were eleven cards for Samurai Japan members (including manager Kuriyama) which I confirmed when the set came out late last week.  The eleven players are Kuriyama, Yuhei Nakamura, Tetsuto Yamada, Yuki Matsui, Ryuji Kuribayashi, Shugo Maki, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Yuki Udagawa, Munetaka Murakami, Hiroya Miyagi and Sasaki.

So it looks like BBM now has the rights to produce Samurai Japan cards in Japan, at least for non-MLB players (which is why Darvish isn't in a Samurai Japan uniform).  They take over from Topps who had it for roughly a year after Calbee had had it from about 2016 to last year (maybe - Calbee's last Samurai Japan set was in 2020).  BBM last had it from about 2001 to 2008 (before the National Team had been dubbed "Samurai Japan").

I'm a sucker for Samurai Japan cards so of course I wanted to get these along with the two cards I had previously wanted (Katoh and Takgishi).  This left me with a dilemma - do I pick up these 13 cards as singles or do I just get the entire set?  I went back and forth a little weighing the pros and cons of each approach.  On the one hand, getting just the singles that I really wanted "should" be cheaper and would mean I didn't have 81 other cards that I wasn't that interested in (including some 64 who aren't baseball players).  On the other, it'd be a lot faster if I just got the set as I could get it through ZenMarket rather than asking Ryan to find them for me during his card shopping.

Ultimately it was this tweet from BITS, a card store in Nagoya, that pushed me to my final decision.  They said that the cards seemed to be in short supply and that it had sold out in pre-orders.  I decided to go with buying a complete set and I picked one up late last week.  I probably overpaid for it but not outrageously so and it wasn't much more than what the singles would have probably run me.  I will mostly likely wait until I get my Fusion set through ZenMarket in late November so I probably won't have the set in hand until early December.  I'll do a post on the set then but in the meantime you can see all the cards over at Jambalaya.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Card Of The Week October 22

As pretty much expected, the Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes won their respective playoff series this week, setting the stage for the first all-Kansai Nippon Series since 1964.  If you've ever wondered which team is more popular in the region, consider that there was an increased police presence in the Dotonbori area of Osaka on Friday night after the Tigers won their series but not Saturday night after the Buffaloes won theirs.

One interesting piece of trivia about this matchup - Tigers manager Akinobu Okada will be only the third NPB manager ever to manage in the Series against a team he had previously managed. (H/T NPB Reddit)

The first manager to do this was Osamu Mihara.  Mihara had managed the Yomiuri Giants from 1947 until mid-way through the 1949 season (I believe he was the last manager that the Giants ever fired mid-season).  He took over the Nishitetsu Lions in 1951.  He ultimately led the Lions to three consecutive championships over his former team from 1956 to 1958.

2000 BBM Giants #G91

1958 Maruo JCM 67

It would be 42 years before it happened again.  In 2000, Sadaharu Oh led the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks to the Series against the Giants, the team he had managed from 1984 to 1988.  Oh's Hawks fell to the Giants in six games.

1987 Play Ball #2

2002 BBM Giants #G114

Finally Okada managed the Orix Buffaloes from 2010 to 2012.  We'll know in two weeks if he emulated Mihara (victorious against his former team) or Oh (defeated by his former team).

2011 BBM Pedigree #01

2023 Epoch NPB #289

One other managerial note - Hawks manager Hiroshi Fujimoto stepped down after Monday's stunning loss against the Marines in the first round of the playoffs.  His replacement is former Hawks and Giants slugger Hiroki Kokubo.  Kokubo's only previous managerial experience was in leading the Samurai Japan team from 2013 to 2017, leading them to third place finishes in both the 2015 Premier 12 and the 2017 WBC.

2016 Calbee Samurai Japan #SJ-01

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Recent Ebay Order

I wanted to do a post about a recent Ebay order I received the other day.  I had seen an autographed card of Norio Tanabe from the 2022 BBM Lions set listed for a fairly reasonable price so I decided to see what else the seller had for sale.  I discovered that he had a bunch of cards from the 2021 BBM Fusion set, including the short printed Ceremonial First Pitch cards.  Now that set was the first one in which BBM had short printed the First Pitch cards and I didn't get them.  I recently started to regret that and was thinking about trying to pick them up so the fact that the seller had a bunch of them pretty cheap was really appealing.  I ended up picking up 14 of them although I'm only going to show two here:

2021 BBM Fusion #FP20

2021 BBM Fusion #FP43

Despite being originally attracted to the Tanabe card, I decided not to pick it up.  But I saw that he was also selling one of the premium "Antique" insert cards from the 2023 BBM Marines set do I decided to pick that up as well:

2023 BBM Marines #AM09

This card looks better than it scans.

So that was my initial order - the 14 Ceremonial First Pitch cards plus the "Antique" insert.  I paid for the order and very quickly got an email back from the seller telling me he'd be refunding some of the shipping costs (Ebay had not combined shipping automatically so they were taking case of it).  And then the seller sent me a discounted offer on the Tanabe auto and I decided to accept it:

It's kind of odd as Tanabe is not actually in the base set for the 2022 BBM Lions set.  But he was a coach for the team last year (and former manager) so BBM included him.

The seller then messaged me and said if I was interested in any of the other autographed cards they had listed to let them know.  I said I wasn't interested in any of the others but I was interested in the 2022 Bowman NPB "Printing Plate" for Hayato Ishita they had listed.  I was told to make an offer on it which I did and it was accepted:

I'd never gotten a "Printing Plate" before so I was excited to get it.  The seller also had singles from the Bowman NPB set available and I decided that I should pick up the Ishita card to go with the "Printing Plate".  While I was looking I found a couple other singles from the set that I wanted as well:

2022 Bowman NPB #75

2022 Bowman NPB #88

2022 Bowman NPB #57

2022 Bowman NPB #141

I decided that was enough and I didn't need to add any more to the order.  The seller shipped the cards and I got them yesterday.  I discovered that the seller had thrown in a couple extra cards:

2021 BBM Masterpiece #051

2020 BBM Fusion #FP26

2021 BBM Swallows #S45

2022 BBM Fusion #GR23

2023 BBM 1st Version #219

It's hard to tell from the scan but the Nishi card is actually a holo parallel.  I already had all the extra cards except the Sugimoto but it was still a nice gesture on the seller's part.  I will definitely be checking their listings again in the future.

Monday, October 16, 2023

One For The Ages

I had to do a quick post about today's game between the Marines and the Hawks.  If you haven't been following events, today was the third and deciding game of the First Stage of the Pacific League Climax Series.  The Marines had won Game One 8-2 on Saturday but the Hawks took Game Two yesterday by a score of 3-1.  Today's game remained scoreless through nine innings but Softbank pushed three runs across in the top of the tenth.  Three runs that looked like a billion given the lack of scoring so far.

But in the bottom of the tenth the Marines got their first two runners on base.  Up stepped Yudai Fujioka, who'd only hit one home run in 380-ish at bats in 121 games over the past two seasons.  So of course he did this:

Suddenly the score was tied and the Marines fans were delirious.  The Hawks retired the next two batters but then Hiromi Oka singled.  That brought Hisanori Yasuda to the plate.  Yasuda had started the game on the bench but had pinch hit for Michael Brosseau several innings earlier and remained in the game as the third baseman.  Yasuda proceeded to do this:

The Marines won the game 4-3 and won the series two games to one.  They'll play Orix in Osaka starting Wednesday to determine the Pacific League's representative in this year's Nippon Series.

I thought I'd share cards for the two heroes of the game for the Marines.  They were both taken by the Marines in consecutive rounds in the 2017 draft - Yasuda in the first round* and Fujioka in the second.  Here's their cards from the 2018 Epoch Pacific League Rookies set:



*Yasuda wasn't the Marines first first round pick in that year's draft.  They and six other teams had initially picked Kotaro Kiyomiya.  After the Fighters won the lottery for Kiyomiya, the Marines picked Yasuda.  The Tigers and Hawks also picked Yasuda but the Marines won the lottery for him.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

RIP Toshio Naka

Former Chunich Dragons outfielder, coach and manager Toshio Naka passed away last week from pneumonia at the age of 87.  Naka had joined the Dragons in 1955 after graduating from high school and became a regular in 1956.  He pretty much remained a staple of the Dragons' lineup until his final season of 1972.  Along the way, he led the Central League in stolen bases in 1960 and batting in 1967, was elected to five Best 9 awards and made six All Star teams.  He also led the CL in runs twice and triples a record five times.  

He was a player/coach his last two seasons before becoming a hitting coach, first for the farm team (1973-76) and then for the top team (1977).  He replaced Wally Yonamine as manager in 1978 and guided the team for three seasons.  He was a TV commentator for a couple years after being fired as manager before returning to Chunichi as a coach from 1984 to 1986.  He also spent four years as a coach for the Carp (1987-90) and then again became a TV commentator.

Naka changed his registered name a couple of times during his career.  Initially he went by his real name "Toshio Naka", but in 1964 he changed his registered name to "Mitsuo Naka".  The following year he changed it again to "Akio Naka" which he went by until he retired.  After he retired he went back to "Toshio Naka" although he changed the kanji from "中 利夫" to "中 登志雄" during his second stint with the Dragons and his years with the Carp.  

Naka had a number of baseball cards during his playing days, including various menko, bromide, game, candy and gum issues.  He also appears as the Dragons manager in the 1979 TCMA set.  He's been in a handful of BBM and Epoch's OB sets over the last 25 years or so, including the 2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 set, the 2002 BBM All Time Heroes set, the 2021 BBM Dragons History set and BBM's three Dragons Anniversary sets - 2006's 70th, 2011's 75th and 2016's 80th.  Here's a handful of his cards, both from his playing days and more recent ones.  Note that both the 1967 Kabaya-Leaf and 2009 BBM Legends cards show his name as "中 暁生" or "Akio Naka" - not sure why the 2009 card identifies him that way when all the other "modern" cards have him as "Toshio Naka".

1957 Marukami JCM 28a

1959 Doyusha "Game Set"

1960 Tachibana Seika

1967 Kabaya-Leaf #71

1979 TCMA #79

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #336

2006 BBM Dragons 70th Anniversary #27

2009 BBM Legend #039

2021 BBM Dragons History #08

Card Of The Week October 15

Contrary to what I said last week, there was another another managerial change in NPB last week.  With the Eagles' late season drive to make the playoffs coming up short, Rakuten's GM/manager Kazuhisa Ishii resigned from the managerial job.  Batting coach Toshiaki Imae will lead the team next season.

Imae was a longtime star for the Chiba Lotte Marines between 2002 and 2015 before spending the last four years of his career with the Eagles.  He was the MVP of both Nippon Series that the Marines have won in the last 20 years - 2005 and 2010.  He's been a coach in the Eagles system ever since he retired after 2019.

I came across something odd when I was looking for a card of his to share this week - there are three cards of Imae from 2016 which all use the same photo!  Here they are:

2016 Calbee #033

2016 BBM 1st Version #149

2016 Eagles Team Set #46

(I don't actually have that last card - I swiped the image from Jambalaya,)

I first noticed an image being used on two different cards late last year and since then I've noticed that it's a little more common than I thought.  But I'm pretty sure this the first time I've seen the same photo used on THREE different cards.*

*I should probably clarify here that I'm talking about cards of active players.  I've seen many instances where cards of retired players reused the same photos, especially since there are fewer and fewer phoios available for players as you get earlier and earlier in Japanese professional baseball history, as this post I did about Eiji Sawamura's cards will attest.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

2023 BBM Lions History 1950-2023

Since 2020, BBM has been doing a series of team "History" sets.  The ninth team to get this treatment is the Saitama Seibu Lions and BBM released the "Lions History 1950-2023" set a few weeks ago.  Like the earlier sets, this set has 90 base cards split into three categories - "Lions History", OB players (including both retired players and active former Lions) and active players.

The team that is now called the Lions entered NPB in 1950 as the Nishitetsu Clippers and called Fukuoka home.  After one season the team merged with the Nishi Nippon Pirates to become the Nishitetsu Lions.  The Lions enjoyed a lot of success in their first decade or so but by the late 1960's had fallen on hard times - times that were made even harder when a number of their players were implicated in the "Black Mist Scandal".  The team changed their name to the Taiheiyo Club Lions from 1973 to 1976 and then the Crown Lighter Lions from 1977 to 1978 - I think in both cases Nishitetsu (or really a shell company called the Fukuoka Baseball Corporation) had essentially sold the naming rights for the team to golf course developer Taeiheiyo Club and then Crown Gas Lighter.  After 1978, the team was sold to Seibu and moved to Tokorazawa in Saitama prefecture, just outside of Tokyo.  The Seibu Lions were the most successful NPB team of the 1980's and continued that success into the 1990's and 2000's.  The team added "Saitama" to their name in 2008.

Each of the seven "Lions History" cards covers a section of the team's history, anywhere between nine and twelve years at a time.  The front of the card shows a photo from the relevant time period while the back has the list of the team's finishes during that time.  Here's the card covering the 1950's:


The bulk of the set is the 71 card OB player subset.  As is the case with most of BBM and Epoch's OB sets, the contents of this subset skews heavily in favor of more recent players - i.e. guys who can still sign an autograph.  There are only two cards of players who've passed away - Kazuhisa Inao and Futoshi Nakanishi - and one of those two (Nakanishi) only passed away last May.  It looks like every one in the set other than Nakanishi, Inao and 91 year old Tatsuro Hirooka have autographed cards available.  

Given the skew towards more recent players, it's probably no surprise that the majority of them are from the Seibu era.  Only nine players are depicted in pre-Seibu uniforms - three each for Nishitetsu, Taiheiyo Club and Crown Lighter - although obviously some players played for them under multiple team names.  Most of the (living) big names in Lions' history are included in the set - Koji Akiyama, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Hiromichi Ishige, Tsutomu Itoh, Koichi Tabuchi, Masamhiro Doi, Osamu Higashio and Kazuo Matsui for example.  There are three former managers - Hirooka, Masaaki Mori and Haruki Ihara - and three foreign players - Orestes Destrade, Ty Van Burkleo and George Vukovich.  The set also includes a number of OB players who are still active with other teams in both NPB and MLB - Shogo Akiyama (Hiroshima), Yusei Kikuchi (Toronto), Hideto Asamura (Rakuten), Hiroyuki Nakajima (Yomiuri), Hideaki Wakui (Chunichi), Takayuki Kishi (Eagles) and Tomoya Mori (Orix).

As usual there's a couple players who you might expect to see in this set but aren't here.  Beyond the stars of the 50's who aren't around to sign autographs like Yasumitsu Toyoda and Hiroshi Ohshita, I was kind of surprised that Katsuya Nomura wasn't in the set.  I mean, sure, he's no longer with us but he was in both the Swallows and Hawks History sets last year.  The two biggest names I could think of among the living were Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Daisuke Matsuzaka.  Kiyohara really isn't that much of a surprise as he hasn't showed up on a card since his drug bust but I was taken aback by Matsuzaka's absence.  I think it's possible he has some sort of exclusive deal with Epoch as he was in a couple of their sets last year (although he also had a reprinted Calbee card last year too).  I was also a little surprised that Alex Cabrera wasn't in the set.

One of the best things about BBM's team "History" sets is the excellent photos that they've used on the cards and this set continues that tradition.  There's a really good variety of action shots; posed, on-field shots and studio photos.  I think this may be the first "History" set to not use any black and white photos for the OB players (although there are a couple in the "Lions History" subset).  The only thing I don't like about the design of the cards is that there's a much thicker border on the bottom of the card than has been present in the other "History" set.

Here's a bunch of cards as examples:








There are 12 cards of active Lions players that use a slightly different card design.  The players include Takeya Nakamura, Takumi Kuriyama, Shuta Tonosaki, Sosuke Genda, Kona Takahashi and Kaima Taira.  Here's Nakamura's card as an example:


As always all the cards can be seen over at Jambalaya.

Now that BBM's done a "History" set for the Lions, the only teams left that have not had a set yet are the Baystars, Eagles and Fighters.  I was kind of expecting there to be a Fighters set this year to tie in with the team's 20th season in Hokkaido but it's not looking like it's going to happen.